I grew up with an amazing family. My dad is a loving, tender dad and has always been a good provider for his family. My mom was a nurturing, intelligent, and fun-loving stay-at-home mom who gave everything for her kids. I’m glad she was a dedicated mom during our family’s younger years because her life was cut short from cancer when I was nine years old. We were six kids and my dad raised us for nine years as a single dad after my mom’s death while I went through adolescence. 

When I was a senior in high school, my dad married my step-mom which brought her four younger children into the family. I have always felt thankful that on the whole, for a step-family situation, everyone did their best to make the most of it and it worked out o.k. for all of us. Behind the scenes, though, my original siblings and I have all experienced much pain as a result of combining families because of the favoritism to my step-siblings by my step-mom. I know she tried to incorporate us, but I guess you could say that often the husband goes along with whatever the wife puts effort into, and there is often a distinct difference in the effort the mom naturally puts into her own kids. This was the case with our combined family. As a result, her kids were favored over my original siblings. 

For 20 years I experienced severe emotional pain feeling rejected and unimportant to my parents. And no matter how kindly I tried to bring up that pain, I was rejected and shut out even more by my step-mom. I internalized it to mean I must not be worthy of love because it felt like a chore to her. Where I had started out feeling excited to gain a mom, in the end I felt like I had lost my closeness with my dad (we had been very close during his single years), my biological mom by death, and my new mom (my step-mom) by being unlovable to her. Having to let go of all of your parents and the nurture you know you should be receiving but are not is a kind of pain I cannot describe. It is a grief that affects how you feel about yourself everyday.

The grief I have felt at all of the milestones of life has been deep and unending, especially at the most significant milestones of motherhood when I gave birth to my own five babies and did not have that person beside me who knew me at birth and adores me and my offspring inherently. Every good characteristic of my children my step-mom would insist was my husband’s genes. I longed for a force behind me to know what came from my genes and looked like me, too, as a baby. 

When I was a teenager, I would watch my friends’ moms hype up shopping for school clothes or formal dances. I would tag along with my best friend on her shopping trips with her mom because I had no one taking me out. I actually became a very independent person as a result, meeting my own needs became like second-nature. I longed for someone to tell me on those bad hair days when I felt awkward as a teenager and needed someone to give me advice on what not to do with my hair that it would all pass. In so many ways I have needed my mom over the years, the pain runs so deep it is usually buried up in a well that very few have seen.

I continually make the decision to put my children first and stay home with them to care for them. I know too well what the absence of a mother feels like in the home. Being a dedicated parent, especially staying in the home to raise your children, isn’t just a luxury like some people try to categorize it, it is a sacrifice by choice that affects generations. Children need daily nurturing, usually through the most mundane tasks. Feeding them, driving them, brushing their hair, scooping them up when they have scraped their knee, and being there for them through the many different stages they go through connects them to you. It is how they feel loved and how they will know how to love as they become adults. While there are many noble professions that we can do, there is only one of you for your child. Any other occupation can have a replacement for you at any time—a teacher, a nurse, or even the president—but you are irreplaceable to your child. No one could ever replace you even if they tried. This is not to say that those who courageously and lovingly step in to fill in the gaps when a parent is not present do not make a difference. They make an extraordinary difference! To this day my grandma, my aunt, my sisters, my dad, my step-mom , and many neighbors and friends’ moms filled in the gaps and I only have the most honor for them. They did all that they could to meet my individual and family’s needs and should be applauded. I have the highest love and admiration for them. 

A child’s need for their biological mom or dad can only be filled by that person who fits that role of that gender. My dad fulfilled his role as dad in a spectacular manner. He even fulfilled the gaps of not having my mom in a spectacular manner! It will never be in his capacity to fulfill the role that was my mom’s. Understanding that has been a big part of my healing process.

I have come to a place of healing for the grief I have felt throughout my life through my beliefs in a loving and just God who will make everything right someday. I have learned to rely on Jesus Christ daily to get through my grief and pain. I say everyday because it is cyclical and never goes away. It will always be part of my life. Children never stop missing or needing their biological parents, even and especially as adults. Parents who nurture in their unique roles make all the difference in the life of a child. I admire the work that you are doing to shine a light on this truth and hope that many more will share their stories to reaffirm the truth of society’s duty to protect children’s rights.